By James Wood (UK)
As a big fan of Tom Cruise, The Mummy was an instant must-see for me. Aside from the abysmal Rock of Ages and the almost equally bad Jack Reacher sequel, Cruise has been in a truckload of wicked films from Rogue Nation, Ghost Protocol, Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow, Jack Reacher, Knight & Day, and I was hoping The Mummy would be another thrilling project for him to add to his impressive roster. This is a serviceable film, it has its moments but gets dragged down frequently by so many flaws, mostly at the hands of Director Alex Kurtzman, and also not getting away with it either; the writing as well.
Nick Morton (Cruise) Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) and Chris (Jake Johnson) uncover an ancient, buried tomb, home to the mummified Princess Ahmanet, who is soon awakened and unleashes her powers upon the unsuspecting modern world. No Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Arnold Vosloo or Patricia Velásquez, this is a whole new reboot setting up yet another Cinematic Universe that no one really asked for. Come on, we’re all thinking and asking the same question; Is this as good as the 1999 Brendan Fraser led series? The charm and campy humour was one of the best aspects of the late 90’s films, it’s what people love them for and still enjoy up to this day, whereas this reboot has barely any of that, nor does this revamp bring anything new to the table to make things feel fresh, it’s nothing more than a tired CGI-action fest with a couple of cool moments.
I thought I’d really enjoy this movie. I have a habit of liking critically scathed movies, like any of the Transformers or Terminator Genisys, the list goes on. Now comes a time where I actually agree with critics, rare, especially when considering this is a summer blockbuster, which is the kind of film I prefer over most and usually enjoy 9 times out of 10. Before I unwrap The Mummy and all of its problems, there are still some goodies left in the coffin, and yes any pun will be intended, I’ve got to keep myself and you fine readers entertained.
Obviously the man himself, Tom Cruise, is good here. It’s not his best role in recent years, Edge of Tomorrow saw him at his strongest, but here Cruise plays a man driven by greed and selfishness, and of course Cruise plays this rather ego-driven scumbag with charm and intensity. He sells the confusion his character goes through when under the thumb of Ahmanet, and Cruise, at 54, keeps on delivering knockout stunts and in one of the finest, if short-lived moments of the movie, gives us an exhilarating Tom Cruise signature run alongside co-star Annabelle Wallis as they both flee a deadly sandstorm inside a museum.
Annabelle Wallis may not be playing the strongest character, but she more than holds her own against Cruise and Crowe, she was the most relatable, playing with awe and surprise as she explains the origins of Ahmanet with such intrigue and mystery, she’s no Evie from the Brendan Fraser Mummy films but as Jenny Halsey, Wallis is a frequently fun and solid screen presence. Sofia Boutella’s Ahmanet is definitely menacing to look at, Boutella is very physical and how she lingers around her co-stars is thrilling to watch as she threatens to cut them up, though her part is quite limited to flashbacks and occasional bursts of action. Russell Crowe is clearly having a lot of fun, hamming it up, something the film desperately needs, as Henry Jekyll. Crowe’s Cockney accent has put a few off, but for me, it’s the silliness of the accent and playfulness that really adds an element of cheese and light to an otherwise serious and dreary film.
The opening action scene in Iraq is just noise, explosions galore with rapid gunfire and Tom Cruise, of course, running away from all of this without a single scratch on him. Jake Johnson shouts over the chaos and it’s rather unpleasant. The plane sequence involving Zero-G is a wild ride despite some iffy CGI elements in regards to the look of the plane. I also appreciated the forest chase, which starts off with a close-quarters fight inside a church leading to a group of mummified men attacking Nick and Jenny inside a speeding ambulance. However, everything after this almost non-stop first half begins to crumble. The energy, the action, the fun and even the technical elements soon turn stale and forgettable.
Want to know one of the most vexing and obnoxious problems with this reboot? Jake Johnson. Never before has an actor been so badly miscast, then in turn so badly performed, has it made me want to walk out temporarily until the headache faded. Jake Johnson is horrible here, a career lowlight for the otherwise likeable star. He screams, shouts, moans and whinges more than any Shia LaBeouf, Kevin Hart or Josh Gad. Instead of being the funny sidekick, he is just a pointless presence who does nothing but cause problems for others, drags the story and pace down and overall, frustrates. The make-up/CGI effects used on Johnson when he’s dead look terrible, so flat and devoid of any shape or texture, as well as physically, his overall performance is a real pain, someone send him to be mummified.
Whilst I cannot deny that seeing my University City of Oxford in The Mummy is a real pleaser, the whole setting of the film is wrong. Why the opening worked so well is because we are taken to desert surroundings, miles and miles of dunes, untouched tombs and ancient towns. This is where we want to be, and where the film should be. We want to explore and be taken on an adventure in dangerous tombs filled with traps and scarab beetles, the home of Ahmanet. Instead, we end up in the London underground and dimly lit Oxford side streets, and a high-tech facility called Prodigium, filled with the history of monsters. Ahmanet, as a character, is completely out of her comfort zone and environment, here she is just a prisoner who happens to break free and cause a bit of damage, damage that window fitters will get a real hefty sum out of afterwards because Ahmanet really likes breaking glass. She poses no real threat.
Speaking of Ahmanet, the titular Mummy herself, we get a wicked opening establishing her rise to power and descent into hell. It’s well shot, superbly lit, echoing the 1999 film’s sandy and golden aesthetic, it genuinely sets up Ahmanet as someone capable of unleashing such evil all before she is captured and imprisoned. Then as my worst fears were brought to life, we have to sit through this establishing sequence again, and again, and again, and again. Why is that you ask? Well that’s because the screenwriting is some of the laziest and most generic you’ll probably see this year.
Flashbacks come in the dozens, retreading material we’ve already seen, because the writers think we as the audience will forget so quickly, they have no confidence in us. I hate flashbacks so much. These flashbacks also mean we have to endure the already insufferable Jake Johnson even more, as he randomly shows up in each action scene to remind Cruise’s Morton what is happening to him. We get it, Ahmanet wants to use Morton as a body for the Egyptian God Set, but we don’t need to be reminded of this a dozen times.
Another headache inducing cliché that drives me mad, and also was seen in Cruise’s other recent film Edge of Tomorrow, is the use of news reports to explain the story and set it up. It’s the laziest, cheapest and quickest way to establish narrative and this tool has no impact, I’d rather just see archaeologists and construction teams finding the tomb themselves, instead of news reports covering prior events, it doesn’t add authenticity to the story or the visuals, just a quick cop-out when something more fluid and fresh could’ve been used as an introduction.
Director Alex Kurtzman has the most bland handling from a director this year with The Mummy. He has no visual style considering most directors do have a style, and even if you hate them, say Michael Bay, J.J. Abrams or Paul W.S. Anderson, these three, and others, have distinct visual touches and palettes that set them apart, and there camerawork choices are easily recognisable. Kurtzman doesn’t have any of this, meaning this film is very much your run of the mill visual effects driven action feature that may have one cool shot here and there, like a double-decker bus hurtling towards Cruise, but all in all he does nothing interesting or visually catching to give The Mummy style or a sheen. However, reports are stating Cruise himself took over on the production significantly, so Kurtzman may not be entirely to blame here.
Again, why indulge in numerous flashbacks when you could’ve given more punch to the second half of the film? All the trailer shots pretty much make up the action in the last hour, which is disappointing as that equates to very little excitement and thrills. The face of Ahmanet in the sandstorm doesn’t have the wow factor it did back in the 1999 film with Vosloo’s Imhotep, and watching Ahmanet beat the living daylights out of Nick gets tiresome quickly because he’s pretty much invincible, and Ahmanet herself is defeated so quickly and so anticlimactically that the entire finale feels like a deflating balloon, accompanied by an entirely forgettable musical score, dull cinematography, a lack of camera movement and the most bleak colour palette.
This film’s second act feels so rushed, as if the producers and writers were so keen to set up the new Dark Universe that they didn’t care about the current events in the film, they just wanted nods and hints towards upcoming films and characters, they didn’t care about making a wicked finale where the stakes were high for Nick and the fate of Jenny was hanging in the balance, though I will admit I loved seeing the Book of The Dead from the 1999 film, a nice little touch there and not too in your face!
One final complaint is how shoddy some of the mummified followers that Ahmanet brings to animation. Even Ahmanet herself, becoming stronger as her flesh comes back and her skin becomes more defined, watching the transformation, you begin to think this is the standard of a middling video game, not a $125,000,000 feature film. When Jekyll’s face transforms it looks like a bad Snapchat filter. I’m becoming more and more concerned with the current visual effects standard in a lot of big budget films, as inconsistency, blotchy effects and bad green screen compositing are becoming all too obvious and frequent, and The Mummy suffers the same, much like Pirates of The Caribbean 5, Independence Day: Resurgence and even moments in Alien: Covenant look weak.
Frustrating is how I would label The Mummy, the more I think about it the weaker it gets in my mind. The performances are fine, Cruise, Crowe and Wallis especially, but Jake Johnson is unbearable and Courtney B. Vance is wasted. The visuals start off strong but soon become flat, as does the sense of adventure and fun, with the action set pieces becoming more and more generic and shorter than the previous one. Treating its audience like fools is just one of its biggest flaws. If this Dark Universe is to continue, keep Alex Kurtzman far, far away, he is the major reason behind the lack of energy and monster movie thrills here, and he too isn’t helped by the lousy script that fails to get this new Cinematic Universe off to good beginnings.